The white facade and modern design is easily noticeable amidst the row of traditional townhouses. Tucked between rustic shops and private homes along Chang Moi Kao road is The Localist. The ‘cafe, poshtel, and coworking space’ is located among many businesses like the famous Naem Pa Yon and Sakura, to name a few. Opened in December 2019, The Localist, like so many businesses in Chiang Mai, is struggling to survive the pandemic. Offering up workshops, serving unique drinks, food, as well as putting on live music, The Localist soldiers on.
We interview Yan, the Slovakian co-owner of The Localist to find out more about his business, how he is weathering the pandemic, what his goals are and what he thinks Chang Moi Road’s potential is…
How did The Localist come to be?
Yan: Originally the store was a bookshop, but the bookshop was closing down. A group of local craftspeople got interested in the building and its charm. They made it into a hostel, small cafe, and craft studio. After a time, the group decided to let it go and that is when we took over the place. Our initial idea was to show the qualities of local produce to the tourists, from the point of view of a traveller. It was already named The Localist, but we liked the name because it matched our idea for the shop so we kept it. I also incorporated a European twist to the building’s design since I am from Europe.
What does it mean to be The Localist?
Yan: We go out of our way to source everything we can locally. We try to cooperate with local producers. If we can get anything made that is locally produced, we will go for it. For example milk, we take it directly from the farm. However, the milk is not perfect for coffee because it is very pure raw milk so we have to strain it. It comes with challenges but we are willing to take it in order to support the locals. Obviously it has to be of good quality. We want to build connections and partnership. I did a lot of travelling around Asia and met many travellers along the way. I wanted to make a place where they can feel welcomes; a place to connect with other travellers and get some good tips on how to get by and what not to miss. My girlfriend and I chose Chiang Mai as it is one of the travelling hubs with plenty of things to do around. Her sense of hospitality gave the place a great spark since in the beginning when we were managing the hostel part. Our focus is on hospitality, we want to be that friendly place in the neighbourhood that makes people forget the worries of the outside world and enjoy the atmosphere. We started unintentionally during the start of the pandemic. It was a really difficult year and it is difficult but we are still here thanks to our great team that is putting loads of effort to keep the place going.
What makes Chang Moi so unique?
Yan: There are some really old family businesses around the Kuew Jab area. It is so fascinating that if you walk down a road and there are some old shops and restaurants which you wouldn’t even notice. Some are even listed in the Michelin guide. Sakura restaurant, for instance, is decades old and old Japanese ex-pats eat there. The area itself is interesting. Buildings look very rough and rustic which gives it a very authentic feeling. We also have old homes and temples along the road.
What are your goals to connect with the local community?
Yan: “I see potential in this Chang Moi area like the Warorot market. Kad Luang is here and I am starting to see a lot more shops branching out from this road. I can see this road become a very creative area. I think it has a lot of potential for the future. We would love to build a little community. One thing is that it is now difficult business-wise for everyone [referring to the pandemic]. If we team up together that will help everyone.
What are your hopes for the future for this road and the shop?
Yan: “We would love to connect people more here, like artists. This area itself can highlight Chiang Mai.”
The temple, local food stalls, or family businesses that have existed for decades mixed with new-age businesses such as the Localist is making Chang Moi interesting and attracting the attention of investors. The traditions and modern mix are what truly make Chiang Mai unique, similar to the logo of the store which features the original ironwork inside the space.
Visit The Localist and Chang Moi Kao Road